Plant Allies: How Redroot Blades Found its Name

High on the slopes of the Old Cascade mountains, under a penetrating, mid summer sun, we burst out of the thick woods into a clearing. Dry, and hot. The smell of bracken fern and sweat pervades this once forested hillside. Only stumps remain of its former self, however, many young species of plants have now taken hold in this forgotten place: Fireweed, trailing blackberry, yarrow, young maples, and redroot.

Redroot: Ceanothus velutinus. The medicinal plant that brought us to this place. Many plants thrive in open soil. Some, like redroot, do well in these temporarily open portions of land, where they take up residence in the early cycle of forest regeneration. Redroot thrives here. For 10 or 15 years they will persist until they are shaded out by larger trees; trees that needed the young understory plants to protect the soil and retain moisture for the larger species to take hold.

We walk along the hillside, zigzagging upwards. A lone raven caws as it tilts its wing, shifting in the breeze to get a better eye on us. We are looking for the largest of the redroot bushes. Usually one of the oldest, often higher up on a slope, as gravity lends to the cascade of subsequent generations.

redroot Ceanothus velutinus in herbalism. Medicinal plant. harvesting process. wildcrafting.

We find it. Huge. Almost over our heads. Its leathery leaves baking in the sun; releasing a pleasant scent of cinnamon and honey. We sit down and take a moment to collect ourselves. I offer a pinch of an herbal smoking blend to this great exemplar of the species: A custom passed down from generations of herbal practitioners, from many parts of the world.

I attempt to clear my mind and lower the seat of consciousness to the heart. To the body; where intuition is found. There is a form of language--a knowing--that is more ancient than spoken language, one that perhaps all beings share. A language that we have almost lost to the outgrowth of the human alphabetic, phonetic language. I turn and look down over my shoulder to and see the perfect bush to harvest from. Easy to access and quite healthy. 

The blood-red root bark is what we are after. Digging in the dry, packed soil to uncover the roots is no simple task. Hours pass. The sun tilts behind the tips of the tallest Douglas fir trees on the perimeter of the clearing but I am almost there. One more twist of the Hori-Hori hand shovel and a long section of root is removed. Success! We replace the disturbed soil and take the root back to camp for processing; eventually making a tincture from its dried root bark.

Early in my training in Western herbalism I found affinity with the medicinal qualities of redroot. Its tannins tone while its saponins open and release. This plant is indicated where damp stagnation has caused sluggishness in the body. My instructor at the time, Scott Kloos, shared a keynote that always stuck with me. He said that redroot is effective in resolving "Portland artist funk", that melancholic sluggishness. The desire to do projects; to clean the kitchen, to look back at that half-finished knife design, but there is no will power to act. Like an unseen force has commandeered the nerve endings to your muscles. Incapable of action.

Thank goodness for redroot. Without it, this knife company might have stayed hidden away in the dusty and unkempt minds of its founders without the support of this good medicine. And that is why Redroot Blades holds Ceanothus velutinus as its sigil. No more wasted days. Living life with all its ups and downs, but rarely stagnant and wanting.

The next time you are hiking in the mid-elevation range of 3000-4000 ft and come into a sunny, dry spot on the trail, tilt your nose for the sweet and spicy aroma of redroot and say hello for me.



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